What is the Resistance? Part II: Strengths By Eric van der Vort
This series will examine the anti-Trump movement (loosely referred to as “the resistance”) as it approaches the six-month mark. I will look at its efficacy, its strengths and weaknesses, its likely evolution, and its meaning for scholars of American politics and citizens in central New York.
The Resistance has drawn a lot of attention over just six months. Trump administration actions prompted large protests and significant coverage. The first post in this series argued that The Resistance is having an impact. Due at least in part to the energy and actions of anti-Trump groups, Democrats in Congress are acting as an opposition party; governors, attorneys general, and mayors are asserting state and local control; courts have applied the brakes on some initiatives. Like other social movements, The Resistance has a variety of strengths and weaknesses. I focus here on two of its primary strengths.
The Resistance has many component parts.
Sidney Tarrow argues that the most effective movements consist of connected but autonomous organizations. Effective social movements exist in a zone between too centralized and too sprawling. So far, The Resistance is comprised of many different organizations pursuing different goals. In February, The Nation reported the emergence of more than 75 new organizations. One of the most prominent of these groups is Indivisible, which has more than 5,000 affiliated based chapters in every Congressional district. Indivisible is responsible for much of The Resistance’s legislative impact.
Other groups The Nation documents include groups focusing on elections, especially new groups providing resources for scientists, women, or Millenials to run for office. This count likely underestimates the emergence of state and local groups. Here in New York, groups like the True Blue NY/No IDC NY, New York Progressive Action Network (NYPAN), and the CNY Solidarity Coalition are doing electoral and protest work that goes beyond simply opposing Trump, but that is also undoubtedly connected to The Resistance.
In short, The Resistance is comprised of numerous organizations that are connected by a perceived threat and a strong affiliation with the Democratic Party. While many of these groups will merge, evolve, or fail, The Resistance overall is marked by a multiple groups coordinating tactical repertoires to build a stronger movement. So far, it is able to fulfill Tarrow’s recommendation of connection and autonomy. This makes The Resistance a more effective movement as its parts create something larger.
The Resistance may be reinvigorating a nation of joiners.
In one account of declining civic participation, Theda Skocpol argues that the United States has rejected its history as a nation of joiners. Voluntary associations (and, I argue, deeply local political groups) have declined, replaced by management-oriented membership organizations. These are many such organizations involved in political work, such the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Rifle Association. They focus less on engaging members as citizens and more on engaging members as donors or signatories. This work is of course important to the groups’ members and for the issues those groups represent, but the dominant model of organizing they represent does seem to contribute to declined civic participation.
A key strategy of the anti-Trump movement has involved showing up. Sustained protest in the last six months leads some people to joke about their busy social unrest calendars. More significantly, however, is the potential for future action. Anecdotal reports suggest that attendance at political events has increased. After the Women’s Marches, groups like EMILY’s List and She Should Run report record numbers of women interested in running for office at every level of government. As the Tea Party movement before, citizens have shown up to town halls in large numbers on the rare occasion that elected officials hold them. Party committees have seen more interest in local involvement. Citizens are attending city councils and school board meetings with interest.
Without painting too rosy a picture, it does appear that some citizens are becoming involved in new ways. As The Resistance moves from being an oppositional protest movement to the business of electioneering, the potential for expanded citizen involvement is very real. The expanded universe of groups available for citizens that are directly working to empower the grassroots and channel that energy into electoral victory makes The Resistance not only an oppositional movement – it also gives it special significance as a breath of fresh air for American democracy right at a time when it appears to be in danger.
Eric van der Vort is a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at The Maxwell School of Syracuse University.